Month: February 2010

February 24, 2010 / / asian-american

By Guest Contributor Alex Jung, originally published at RaceWire

Inconstancy, rather than a vice, has long been a strength of fashion. Empire waists, shoulder pads, and bubble skirts have all come in, out, and back again. Designers, too, fall in and out of favor with editors and the shopping elite who patronizes them. But lately, there has been a noticeable sea change, too strong to be a 15 seconds type of thing: Asian American designers.

The emerging designer award, known officially due to corporate sponsorship as the Swarovski Award (also formerly the Perry Ellis award) for women’s wear, is in many ways the most watched because it anoints the next “It” designer.

Notably, four of the past five winners have been Asian American. Since 2005 when Derek Lam won the award, an Asian American has won every year with the only blip coming in 2008 when the Mulleavy sisters, Kate and Laura, won for their line, Rodarte. Their competition? Alexander Wang and Thakoon Panichgul. Alexander Wang went on to win the following year. Poor Thakoon, though, is something of a Susan Lucci of the competition, having been an also-ran for four consecutive years. At least Michelle Obama loves him.

Cathy Horyn of the Times has forecasted the next fashion darlings: Alexander Wang, the 25-year old wunderkind who has already built a $25 million business (duh, Cathy); Prabal Gurung, an immigrant from Nepal who creates gorgeous curves on his clothes; and Joseph Altuzarra, a Swarthmore-educated designer. That mix alone represents the diversity of the Asian American community nicely: second generation, 1.5er, and hapa, respectively.
Read the Post Gaysians Take Over New York Fashion Week

February 24, 2010 / / Uncategorized
February 24, 2010 / / On Appropriation

By Guest Contributor Toban Black, originally published at Contexts.org

The 2010 Olympics logo is an altered version of traditional Arctic Inuit sculptures. This quasi-indigenous logo has been displayed in a barrage of Olympics branding. You can see two examples of this marketing in photos — from the summer of 2009 – shown below.

With this Olympics logo, and other Olympics promotional messages, marketers have been portraying the 2010 Games as ‘indigenous’ Olympics. Indigenous references are foregrounded in mass produced Olympics marketing.  The online Olympics store even sells “Authentic Aboriginal Products” (such as t-shirts and silk ties).

Some people who encounter this Olympics branding are bound to come away with the impression that natives (that is, individuals with a significant enough amount of native ancestry or culture) are respected, empowered, and well-integrated here in Canada. In other words, some viewers will view this marketing as a sign of harmonious bonds between natives and mainstream Canadian society.

Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, conveyed a much different view of Olympics marketing when he asserted that,

We’re deeply concerned about the concerted and aggressive marketing campaign advanced by Vanoc [the 2010 Olympics organization committee] which suggests the indigenous people of [British Columbia] and Canada enjoy a very comfortable and high standard of living. The Disneyesque promotional materials suggests a cosy relationship between aboriginal people of the province with all levels of government and it completely ignores the horrific levels of poverty our people endure on a daily basis.

(Arctic indigenous branding on a McDonald’s cup in a
Wal-Mart store, in a city in Ontario, Canada)

In British Columbia, and elsewhere in present-day Canada, natives have communicated conflicting views about how the 2010 Olympics relate to their lives, lands, and traditions. Indigenous Environmental Network campaigners have been among the more vocal critics who have opposed the 2010 Games.

Some have found the cartoonish Olympic marketing imagery to be a mockery of native traditions.  For example, critics have argued that the 2010 Olympics committee has edited and re-packaged native culture — which also has been ripped out of its traditional contexts. The Committee is highlighting Arctic indigenous imagery — yet Vancouver, the centre of the Games, is a temperate city.  Arctic indigenous peoples did not live there — or on the nearby Whistler and Cypress mountains, where some Olympic events will be held. Other indigenous populations who did live in that area of British Columbia also are not represented in the marketing iconography.

The Olympics branding denies noteworthy differences among native groups spread across these areas. Passing theatrical gestures to native peoples during the open ceremonies could be considered to be more respectful, but Olympics marketers otherwise have been mixing up North American native traditions into a soup-like caricature. Natives have been consistently oppressed, but the various peoples who are considered to be native (in some way, or to some degree) certainly are not ‘all the same.’ Tacking Arctic imagery on to Vancouver-area Games implies that there is only one native essence (in North America, if not beyond this continent).

Read the Post An Indigenous Olympics?

February 24, 2010 / / Uncategorized
February 23, 2010 / / colour-face

By Guest Contributor Ninoy Brown, originally published at FOBBDeep

More on UCSD’s most recent “post-racial” moment.

Within the last week, much public outrage has come upon UCSD as a result of the disgusting display of ignorance from the “Compton Cookout”.  National attention has been placed on the campus, and NAACP has recently spoken out against the incident.

With this, I wanted to post a letter that Dr. Jody Blanco, from UCSD’s Dept of Literature, had written for Kaibigang Pilipino.  Though intended for Filipinos/Filipino students and student organizations at UCSD, I felt the message was important for more folks to read, as well.

Dr. Blanco was an inspiration for many of us, student of color organizers, while attending UCSD.  In the letter, he contextualizes the “private party”, discussing why outrage is justified and why Filipino American students should stand as allies with our African American brothers and sisters.

Dear Filipina and Filipino students, colleagues, and friends:

I hope that you don’t mind my sending a mass email to you, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done. While I know some, maybe many of you individually, I haven’t been to a KP GBM in many years, and haven’t had the opportunity to work as closely with you as I would have liked and would like to. Hopefully this is something we can begin to address and repair over time.

What has prompted this unusual message is the recent spate of events that have transpired the past week, and have caused or exacerbated the perceived lack of support for many historically underrepresented minorities – not just blacks, but Latinos, Arab- and certain Asian-Americans, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans included. I don’t need to tell you the details, which I’m sure you already know – a private party involving hundreds of UCSD students, framed as an expression of contempt for Black History Month and the free use of hate speech (which, as it turns out, was downloaded from a website); a follow-up televised program on the Koala newspaper website, expressing support for hate speech.

By now, if you’ve been listening to the local and national news, you may also have a sense of the fallout: black students at UCSD threatening to withdraw or transfer out of UCSD en masse; the administration’s simultaneous condemnation of these events and declaration of non-commitment to any further significant actions to be taken in response to the outbreak of hate speech on campus; the intervention of the San Diego city council and California state assembly members committed to take responsibility and hold people accountable (because the university won’t); a public statement made by the NAACP promising to conduct its own investigation into the matter; national coverage of our campus and university on network TV, featuring reporters and analysts who express open disbelief at the campus’s presumed commitment to its principles of community, and bewilderment at the administration’s failure to take any meaningful or effective action defending and protecting its students from injury and insult.

For those of you who have close friends in the black community, you may have witnessed or heard stories of their trauma and insecurity: students weeping in the halls and on Library Walk at their helplessness and inability to represent themselves against the violence of having other people represent them. If you are like me, you are familiar with this feeling: you have grown up seeing your parents scolded by an angry grocery clerk or policeman for appearing ignorant or slow; you have been denigrated or mocked by whites for excelling at the things you love or feel passionate about; you have felt betrayed by an authority who witnessed your persecution at one point or another, and pretended not to notice. You are familiar with the mistrust, lack of confidence, and sometimes, the outright fear, of the world outside your immediate family and friends; you have struggled consciously or unconsciously to accept or refuse the possibility that the world outside this insulated circle neither values nor encourages your participation and contribution to a wider community. If you can’t relate to what I’m saying, perhaps it’s all for the best, because I wouldn’t wish that consciousness and psychological conflict on anybody. But if you can relate to what your African-American brothers and sisters are feeling, you probably also understand that this is what most ethnic and / or historically underrepresented minorities, in the US and in every country, experience to one degree or another. It is the experience we share in common, an experience that oftentimes draws us close to one another in times of danger.

Read the Post Blanco: In Solidarity with 1.3% of UCSD

February 23, 2010 / / academia

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally published at Race Relations on About.com

The University of California at San Diego is still feeling the aftermath of an off-campus party organized by students dubbed the “Compton Cookout” in which racial stereotypes of blacks were used in flyers and a Facebook invitation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “the invitation included references to ‘dat Purple Drank,’ an apparent mix of ‘sugar, water, and the color purple, chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.’ Party organizers aimed to have a “ghetto” theme Feb. 15 poking fun of Compton, a community near Los Angeles made famous by rappers and films about urban blacks.

When word spread around campus about the party, black students were outraged, as were administrators who worry that prospective students of color may decide not to apply to UCSD because of the incident. Presently, fewer than 2% of UCSD students are black.

“I’m most touched by the fact that students who personally felt stereotyped are hurting,” UCSD Vice Chancellor Penny Rue told NBC San Diego.

Imagine how you would feel if you were an African American student who rose from the ranks of a place such as Compton, only to have white classmates stereotype you as being “ghetto.” And ghetto in these situations always means tacky, boorish, classless, ignorant and laughable, not to mention a drain on the system or the single parent of multiple children from multiple mates. The Los Angeles Times posted verbatim what women attending the party were told to wear and how to act. I’m choosing not to re-post the hatred it contained on the Race Relations site.

In short, those who planned the party took the worst stereotypes of African Americans and threw them in the face of black students who embody exactly the opposite. Making it into an institution such as UCSD requires intelligence, talent and hard work, but “ghetto” parties are more interested in showcasing blacks who fit stereotypes such as gold chain-wearing pimp or welfare queen. It’s unfortunate that no one had the foresight to see how planning such a party would be a slap in the face to the small number of African American students at UCSD. Being part of a community is a huge part of college life. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you’re a minority, however, and even harder when you discover that students from the majority culture view you in terms of racist caricatures.

Read the Post “Compton Cookout” Party at UCSD Ignites Racial Firestorm

February 23, 2010 / / Uncategorized
February 23, 2010 / / african-american

By Guest Contributor invisiman52, originally published at Max Protect

(An African Methodist Episcopal Church and stop on the Underground Railroad)

On his blog at The New RepublicJohn McWhorter argues that “African American” does not accurately describe the descendants of African slaves who live in the United States today.  He suggests that the term should be reserved for “actual Africans” who emigrate to the United States; but for those whose ancestors were brought to the North American mainland in chains, “black will have to do,” McWhorter says.  There are several reasons why his logic in the post (as well as that in this Bloggingheads with Glenn Loury) is flawed.  If one takes the time to understand the historical, geopolitical, and ethical ramifications of the term “African American,” he might realize that it is the most precise signifier for the people whose ancestors endured the traumatic encounter with European enslavers in the North American colonies and United States.

First off, it bears noting that if someone has a personal aversion to the term “African American” there is no need to try to convince her otherwise.  (Indeed, people do not like the names a parent gives them and change them as a result.)  Yet McWhorter’s argument does not rest on personal predilection, but rather it is an attempt to reason and eventually settle on the most exact designation for black people native-born to the U.S.  As such, the first concern is one of history.  (And McWhorter recognizes this, as his title suggests: “Did ‘African American’ History Really Happen in Atlanta, Cleveland, Philly, and Detroit?  Listening to the Census.”)  That most black Americans have not been to Africa, do not speak an indigenous African language, and/or cannot trace their ancestral line to a particular tribe or region is beside the point.  The “African” in African American is not that grounded; it is does not signify the particularities of Africa.  Instead, the “African” in African America refers to a very distinct historical process of acculturation, trauma, and community building.  As historian Ira Berlin puts in his definitive text on slavery, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America:

When the captives boarded ship in Africa, they did not think of themselves as Africans.  Their allegiance was to a family, clan, community, or perhaps–although rarely–state, but never to the continent itself.  By the time they reached the American shores, that had begun to change; as they disembarked, the process by which many African nations became one had already gained velocity.  The construction of an African identity proceeded on the western, not the eastern, side of the Atlantic, amid the maelstrom of the plantation generation. (104)

It is this historical activity that “African”  connotes.  That these people and their descendants would eventually lose the distinctiveness of their native clans, and instead merge strategies of survival and elements of culture means that only a term as capacious and ambiguous as “African” can forcefully capture them.  Paradoxically, the “African” in African American has everything and nothing to do with the places of Africa.

However, one might argue, as McWhorter does, that “African American” is a better label for a person who emigrated from an African country, the so-called “actual African.”  Today, over 1 million black people in the United States are from Africa; and yet, I argue, the term “African American” is not the most accurate signifier for these subjects.  Why?  Because “African” is too abstracted for them.  That is to say, an immigrant from Nigeria is a Nigerian-American, just as one from Ireland is an Irish-American.  Because the immigrant from Nigeria knows he is from Nigeria, he should be hailed accordingly.  This recognizes two realities of geopolitical modernity: one, the importance of the formation of nation-states; and, two, that most black people born in the United States do not know precisely from where they come.  This is how one distinguishes a descendant of slaves from an African immigrant from, say, Kenya: the former is an African American, the latter is a Kenyan American; whereas the Kenyan knows he from Kenya, the African American is from everywhere and nowhere in Africa at the same time.

Read the Post Why “African American” IS the Most Accurate Term